2023 NBA Draft Lottery: Meet Victor Wembanyama, the best prospect since LeBron James, projected to go No. 1
The 2022 NBA Draft was top-heavy with Paolo Banchero, Chet Holmgren and Jabari Smith, but none of them compares to what’s coming with the 7-foot-4 phenom out of France, Victor Wembanyama. Oklahoma City might have landed a great prospect in Holmgren, but Wembanyama is on another level.
The 19-year-old point-forward plays like no one else in the world with his staggering size and frame, along with his 7-foot-9 wingspan (some say it’s 7-10). To see him take players off the dribble and step into 3-pointers from Stephen Curry range defies everything you would ever expect from a young player with his size. He’s most noticeable on the defensive end as a rim protector and effectively guarding wings off the pick-and-roll switch. Think Rudy Gobert mixed with Kevin Durant and Anthony Davis. That’s what Wembanyama is projected to be. If you think that comp is too outrageous, then how about a larger Giannis Antetokounmpo without any weaknesses.
Seriously. He’s that good.
Wembanyama is the most talked-about prospect among NBA scouts and executives since LeBron James in 2003 and is the runaway favorite to be the No. 1 pick in the 2023 NBA Draft by a mile (-10000 at BetMGM). The French native will be the biggest and most talented import from overseas ever, trumping Luka Dončić and two-time MVP Nikola Jokić.
"Right now, it’s Wembanyama and everyone else for the 2023 Draft," one NBA scout told Yahoo Sports. "There’s always concern about someone so good, so young, but it hasn’t gotten in the way of Wembanyama from getting better over the years. He’s the closest thing to a transcendent talent the draft has seen since probably Zion [Williamson], and even then the feelings throughout the league were much more mixed compared to where things stand right now with Wembanyama."
Who is Victor Wembanyama, the projected No. 1 pick in the 2023 NBA Draft?
Wembanyama grew up in Le Chesnay, France, a suburb 15 miles outside of Paris. His mom, Elodie de Fautereau, played basketball at a high level and his father, Felix, was a professional high jumper and ran track. His older sister, Eve, also played basketball and won a gold medal with France at the 2017 U16 European Championship. As a child, Wembanyama played soccer and was an elite goalkeeper before giving it up to focus solely on basketball.
At just 14 years old, Wembanyama helped France’s JSF Nanterre U18 team become the French League runner-up, despite being three years younger than most of the players. Around this time, Wembanyama started to get noticed by other scouts around Europe. He was a lanky center who wasn’t afraid to shoot deep 3s, attack the lane off the perimeter and played the game differently than anyone else. It was clear early on he was going to be a special player with his size and skill set. Despite pushes to move to Barcelona, a bigger basketball city, Wembanyama opted to stay in France and continue his development, eventually playing for ASVEL Villeurbanne in the EuroLeague and the U19 French national team.
Every NBA scout was tuned in summer 2021 to watch 7-foot Holmgren, that year's No. 2 overall pick, go head-to-head with Wembanyama in the FIBA U19 World Cup gold-medal game. Holmgren is known as one of the best rim protectors in America, but it was Wembanyama (a year younger than everyone on the court) who was incredible, recording eight blocks and adding 22 points in an MVP-caliber performance. Team USA barely edged France, 83-81, with Holmgren winning MVP honors and finishing with 10 points and five assists in 23 minutes. During the course of the tournament, Wembanyama set a FIBA World Cup record for blocked shots with 40, averaging 5.7 per game. Holmgren recorded only 19 blocks in the tournament.
"Never have I ever seen Chet Holmgren overshadowed physically like he was last year whenever the two met," another NBA scout told Yahoo Sports. "He practically can and does do all that Chet can, but is three inches taller, probably shoots it better from three, may have a better feel as a passer and has a much better frame to develop than Chet."
The all-tournament team was loaded with talent, including Jaden Ivey (2022 No. 5 pick to the Detroit Pistons), Nikola Jović (2022 No. 27 pick to the Miami Heat), Purdue center Zach Edey, Wembanyama and Holmgren.
Wembanyama would most definitely have been the No. 1 overall pick in 2022 and arguably the No. 1 pick in the last three draft classes. He’s the best young prospect in the world.
What insiders say about Victor Wembanyama from upside to concerns
As expected, there have been growing pains in the EuroLeague, playing against grown men, but he’s flourished for the Metropolitans 92 in the French Betclic Élite league where he is leading all players in points (21.8), rebounds (10.3) and blocks (3.1) per game. Head coach T.J. Parker offered an insider’s look last year at what it’s like coaching the budding superstar.
"First of all, he listens, and he wants to get better," Parker said of Wembanyama. "It's not easy for him because he has that kind of body. He has to get stronger, and he works hard every day, but I trust him at the end of the game.”
Wembanyama does it all, from blocking shots to scoring at all three levels offensively. Injuries are always a concern with his body style and unique frame. But when Wembanyama is healthy, he’s been unstoppable and is showing glimpses of why he’s a generational prospect. Of course, there will be doubters and critics of his long, lanky frame, but Wembanyama’s ready to prove everyone wrong.
“I have no pressure, no fear. It's just basketball, so I'm trying to have fun every time,” Wembanyama said. “You know, people have doubts, but I'm going to prove them wrong."